International Youth Day

Op-ed: Beijing+25 Generational Shift

Engaging the new generation of young women leaders and activists on gender equality and the empowerment and rights of women and girls

Date: Monday, August 12, 2019

By: Izeduwa Derex-Briggs, UN Women Regional Director for East and Southern Africa 

Almost 25 years ago, over 50,000 women and men from all over the world gathered in Beijing and took a stand to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women and girls everywhere. 189 governments committed to taking strategic, bold action in 12 critical areas of concern: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child.

A milestone for the journey towards gender equality and an impulse for a generation of activists, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remains one of the most referred to instruments as far as gender equality and women’s empowerment are concerned and has guided Member States in accelerating gender equality among their constituencies. Mandated to advance the rights of women and girls worldwide, UN Women has supported Member States in their endeavors to fulfil their commitments within the 12 critical areas and beyond.

What has changed since then?

According to the World Bank, over 1.1 billion people have been alleviated from poverty, which means women and men have better livelihoods than in the 1990s. In addition, two thirds of countries worldwide have reached gender parity in education enrolment (UNICEF) and 76% have passed laws against domestic violence, compared to 13% in 1995, while women’s participation in Parliaments increased from 11.3% in 1995 to 24.3% in 2019[1].

Since 1995 the world has changed but not always for the better. The rise of violent extremism and resurgence of conservatism is threatening the hard gains of these past decades. The world is noticing increasing gender gaps in ICT and STEM and the rising problem of cyber-bullying, where 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least four different kinds of abusive online behaviors, compared with 6% of boys[2]. In the last five years alone, since 2014 when the Beijing Platform for Action was last reviewed, the threat on civic space and rights is on the increase.

Furthermore, while Africa remains the continent with the highest youth population globally, high unemployment rates persist and continue to limit a continent full of unbridled youth potential.

2020 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action set out to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life, whether in public or in private. However, a quarter century after, no country in Africa has achieved gender equality and in some areas the gap between women and men continues to increase, with women are enjoying less rights and accessing less opportunities. As a result, women remain undervalued, they continue to work more, earn less, have fewer choices, and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces.

Young people in particular face implausible and sometimes unique challenges, , disproportionately affecting girls and young women. Many young people are still experiencing varied forms of discrimination, limited political inclusion, high levels of poverty, and limited access to health and educational opportunities and decent jobs. Additionally, young women and girls continue to be bound by social and cultural norms that increase their vulnerability to HIV and hinder their growth and potential  when forced into marriage. The experiences and impact of conflict on young women and girls is devastating.

 

Despite these challenges however, young people are already contributing to the resilience of their communities, proposing and implementing innovative solutions, driving social progress and inspiring political change, in urban as well as rural contexts. Young women around the globe possess the collective power to change their lives, their communities and the world we live in.

 

With over 40% of Africa’s population below the age of 15, while about 20% of the population fall between 15-24 years age, it is undeniable that unless young people unite and mobilize to empower women and girls, the realization of gender equality by 2030 will not be possible. Africa must tap into the great potential of its youthful population to ensure gender equality for sustainable development.

This calls for renewed commitment and more innovative ways to conquer the next frontiers and eliminate remaining barriers for women and girls in order for them to fully enjoy their rights and meaningfully engage in the development of their communities and societies as a whole. This calls for a new generational shift committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

 

As the world prepares for the 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the African youth, is getting ready to make their voices heard on their generation’s stand as regards gender equality. Today more than ever, young women and men have to unite for a truly gender equal Africa.

 

This Op-Ed was produced for the Young Women's Regional Consultation on Beijing +25



[1] UN Women

[2] Marcum, Catherine D. et al. “Battle of the Sexes: An Examination of Male and Female Cyberbullying.” International Journal of Cyber Criminology. http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/marcumetal2012janijcc.pdf.